Recent heavy rains have forced us to evaluate how we approach the next six weeks on our farm.
Our herd is due to start calving on the 12th of next month and in order to give the cows a break before they calve we stop milking cows around 55 days before their due date. This means each week for the next 8 weeks a mob of cows is removed from the miking herd and placed in a mob of cows away from the dairy. This is what dairy farmers call ‘drying cows off’, these cows with return to the milking herd once they have given birth to their calves.
We calve our entire herd down over a 10 week period, this is a very busy time for us, this is called a ‘seasonal calving’. Some farms have two calving periods that’s called ‘split calving’. Some have many calving periods that is commonly called ‘batch calving’ and some calve all year round.
We choose to have one calving period so we can match the cows feed requirements with our grass growth, we have a strong focus on feeding grass to our cows. One calving period also means we can focus on one main activity on the farm at a time, our calving period is busy and very intense but we can see the end of it and we get a short quieter period before we focus on the next task.
Farms which have one calving period have tradionally had a lower cost of production and are often farms which have part of their production exported. Whereas farms which supply milk to the domestic market need to maintain supply throughout the year and often calve year round or batch calve.
So due to our recent heavy rain, instead of drying off a few cows a week over the next seven weeks, during the next 10 days we will dry off our entire herd. This will also enable us to protect our valuable pastures around our dairy. The dry cows can be moved to drier pastures at the far end of our property which aren’t grazed by the milking herd. Drying the remained of the herd off in one go will mean the cows due to calve late in our calving period will get the bonus of a longer holiday.
This will also mean we will have a period of no milk production in late May early June when milk is worth the most for us to sell. This plan is not set in concrete yet and we will evaluate how our pastures dry over the next few days. It is critical we do all we can to protect our soils and pastures, we don’t want to make the mistake of chasing high value winter milk at the detriment of next season.